The 4th of July passed with little fanfare in the Nelson house; pizza lunch with our kids and grandkids (minus one adventurous vagabond) and to bed before the local fireworks began.
The 4th never drew reverence, as the shortcomings in our country have always rivaled the ideals. I suppose if I flew a flag, half-mast might have been a compromise. Now, given the foundering state of our republic, upside down would be a better choice. The neighbors might object, which wouldn’t dissuade me in years past, but now there are enough armed patriots that I prefer to avoid confrontation.
But there is no doubt that we are in trouble.
The political shenanigans and remarkably durable pathology of Trumpism are symptoms, but they are not the problem. We are at a moment in history that has no precedent. Many have described this juncture as similar to the Civil War. I believe it is more serious, although similar bloodshed is unlikely.
The nation’s founding was admirable in many ways, but the equality promised in the Declaration of Independence was compromised before the ink was dry on the Constitution. The stench of slavery has never been cleansed, despite lurching progress from time to time. And many who most eloquently expressed the young nation’s ideals, failed dismally to live them.
The test we face now is whether we can become a multicultural democracy at a scale that our world has never seen. This opportunity is, like all opportunities, a profound challenge. The resistance is mighty. Behind white supremacist terrorism, the ugly attempts to undermine elections and overt voter suppression, there is the more powerful manipulation of invisible money and the courts in our country. They have been stacked with judges who can, have, and will legitimatize social, cultural and political repression of the minority that threatens to challenge the majority.
We tend to view the components of the broad “insurrection” in isolation. But they are all of a piece. Ron DeSantis’s abuse of immigrants, diminishing of LGBTQ+ folks and uncontrolled arming of the populace is not an isolated battle. The assault on women’s reproductive rights was not a moral or legally reasoned action. It was to wrest away one element of individual power in service of white male hegemony. It was to put women in their place. The end of affirmative action was not to re-establish some new form of equality; it was to slow or reverse the ascension of a minority that threatens to challenge the majority.
The conservative hostility to immigrants is not because, you know, “they’re not sending their best people,” or because they are displacing all the white men who aspire to spend long, hot hours picking America’s crops. It is because they are Black and brown, and their ambition and determination foretells an ascension that threatens to challenge the majority.
All of the gerrymandering that has diluted the voting power of Black and brown people has been done to slow or reverse the ascension of a minority that threatens to challenge the majority.
Every legislative, judicial and devious action of today’s conservative movement is in response to fear of a possible day when there is no white male hegemony.
For all of my lifetime – for all of the nation’s existence – a white, predominantly male, majority established the policies, practices and laws that govern our lives. To the extent that social progress has been made, it was always in the context of continued control by the white, male majority. Even those in the majority who supported and support social justice have done so in a spirit of noblesse oblige, or in service of an ideal, as long as their power was not surrendered.
It is symbolically represented by things like neighborhood or school integration, which is easy and self-satisfying to support, until your majority is threatened. Most people, including a great many “good” liberals, have not comfortably accepted the possibility of a world where the “other” is calling the shots, however great their supposed affection for the “other” may be. This is true in the neighborhood, the workplace, and the government at all levels.
Can this nation survive the powerful resistance on these multiple fronts and emerge as the world’s greatest multicultural, racially diverse, inclusive democratic republic? The jury is certainly out.
If we can, within my shrinking lifetime, I’ll fly that flag, right side up and proud.